Saturday, January 19, 2013

From ‘Authentic Happiness’ by Martin E P Seligman

The “pleasant life” might be had by drinking champagne and driving a Porche, but not the good life. Rather, the good life is using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification

…..research from the University of Minnesota shows that there is a personality trait of good cheer and bubbliness…..which, it turns out, is highly heritable.

…..happy people have more casual friends and more close friends, are more likely to be married and are more involved in group activities than unhappy people

…..roughly 50 percent of almost every personality trait turns out to be attributable to genetic inheritance. But highly heritable traits (like sexual orientation and body weight) don’t change much at all, while other highly heritable traits (like pessimism and fearfulness) are very changeable.

After three years of study, the novice monk arrives at the dwelling of his teacher. He enters the room, bursting with ideas about knotty issues of Buddhist metaphysics, and well-prepared for the deep questions that await him in his examination.
“I have but one question,” his teacher intones.
“I am ready, master,” he replies.
“In the doorway, were the flowers to the left or to the right of the umbrella?”
The novice retires, abashed, for three more years of study.

Mounting over the last forty years in every wealthy country on the globe, there has beena startling increase in depression. Depression is now ten times as prevalent as it was in 1960, and it strikes at a much younger age. …. I have theorized that an ethos that builds unwarranted self-esteem, espouses victimology, and encourages rampant individualism has contributed to this epidemic …..There is another factor… the over-reliance on shortcuts to happiness. Every wealthy nation creates more and more shortcuts to pleasure: television, drugs, shopping, loveless sex, spectator sports, and chocolate to name a few. ….
To start the process of eschewing easy pleasures and engaging in more gratifications is hard. The gratifications produce flow, but they require skill and effort….they offer the possibility of failing….. Playing three sets of tennis, or participating in a clever conversation, or reading Richard Russo takes work – at least to start. The pleasures do not: watching a sitcom, masturbating, and inhaling perfume are not challenging. Eating a buttered bagel or viewing televised football on Monday night requires no effort and little skill, and there is no possibility of failure. …..
A mountain climber may be close to freezing, utterly exhausted, in danger of falling into a bottomless crevasse, yet he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Sipping a cocktail under a palm tree at the edge of the turquoise ocean is nice, but it just doesn’t compare to the exhilaration he feels on that freezing edge.

…..beyond the safety net, more money adds little or nothing to subjective well-being….. While real income in America has risen 16 percent in the last thirty years, the percentage of people who describe themselves as “very happy” has fallen from 36 to 29 percent.

  • Identify your signature strengths
  • Choose work that lets you use them every day.

Cindy Hazan, a Cornell psychologist, tells us that there are three kinds of love. First is love of the people who give us comfort, acceptance, and help, who bolster our confidence and guide us. The prototype is children’s love of their parents. Second, we love the people who depend on us for these provisions; the prototype of this is parents’ love for their children. Finally comes romantic love – the idealization of another, idealizing their strengths and virtues and downplaying their shortcomings. Marriage is unique as the arrangement that gives us all three kinds of love under the same umbrella, and it is this property that makes marriage so successful………
Evolution has a very strong interest in reproductive success, and thus in the institution of marriage. Successful reproduction in our species is not a matter of quick fertilization, with both partners then going their own separate ways: rather, humans are born big-brained and immature, a state that necessitates a vast amount of learning from parents. This advantage only works with the addition of pair-bonding. Immature, dependent offspring who have parents that stick around to protect and mentor them do much better than their cousins whose parents abandoned them. Those of our ancestors, therefore, who were inclined to make a deep commitment to each other were more likely to have viable children and thereby pass on their genes. Thus marriage was “invented” by natural selection, not by culture.
….Woman who have stable sexual relationships ovulate more regularly, and they continue ovulating into middle age, reaching menopause later than women in unstable relations. The children of couples who are married and stay married do better by every known criterion than the children of all other arragements. For example, children who live with both biological parents are treated for emotional disorders at one-fourth to one-third the rate of the other parenting arrangements. Among the most surprising outcomes … are the findings that the children of stable marriages mature more slowly in sexual terms, they have more positive attitudes toward potential mates, and are more interested in long-term relationships than are children of divorce.

The overarching principle of good listening is validation. The speaker first wants to know that he has been understood …. If possible, he additionally wants to know that the listener agrees or is at least sympathetic  ….. The most superficial problem of nonresponsive listening is simple inattention. External factors – kids crying, deafness, a TV set on in the background, static on the phone – should be eliminated. Avoid conversation under these circumstances ….. Preparing your rebuttal while listening is an insidious habit 

….Robert Wright’s book,  ……. The universal picture of political change over the centuries, all across the world, is from savage to barbarian to civilization. There is a progression with an increase in win-win situations at its core. The more positive-sum games in a culture, the more likely it is to survive and flourish…… history is checkered with one horror after another …..But the broad movement of human history ….. is, when viewed over centuries, in the direction of more win-win.

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